Film Review: Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Release Date: April 2nd, 1982 (Sweden)
Directed by: John Milius
Written by: John Milius, Oliver Stone
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Gerry Lopez, Mako, William Smith, Max von Sydow

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Edward R. Pressman Productions, Universal Pictures, 129 Minutes

Review:

“Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to Hell with you!” – Conan

Conan the Barbarian is a hard movie to top in the sword and sorcery sub-genre of fantasy. It really set the standard in 1982 and it also spawned innumerable ripoff films, mostly from Europe and mostly schlock. A few wannabe Conan pictures were good but there’s too many to address when I’m here to specifically review this film.

This is also the superior Conan film, as its sequel didn’t live up to this one and its remake, decades later, was lacking the lightning in a bottle that made this film special.

When I was a young boy, I looked up to this film. I looked up to Conan and his struggle and his fight to seek out justice for himself and eventually, the world he lived in. In 2018, this would be considered a film that exudes “toxic masculinity” while being dismissed as shit by third wave feminists and male apologists. Sorry, but Conan, even fueled by revenge, was a flawed hero that went on to be a king, against all odds, and continually vanquished the evil in his world. In fact, this film got me into reading Conan comics, as well as the original stories by Robert E. Howard.

Conan the Barbarian is a balls out, unapologetic action film about one badass dude that’s not just going to take the bullshit of tyrants.

Now the film, like its title character, has its flaws. But compared to other big action movies of the time, those flaws aren’t as bad and not as apparent.

The acting is what you would expect from a Schwarzenegger film, the direction is much better than average and the special effects are actually great for a 1982 film that didn’t have a massive budget.

The thing that really makes this film more superb than it would have otherwise been is the score by Basil Poledouris. Conan the Barbarian has one of the coolest and most powerful themes in film history. It isn’t just the title theme that’s great though, it’s the music throughout the entire picture. It just sets the mood and pacing right. It accentuates the action and subtly gives life to the slower bits.

My only real complaint about the film is it does feel drawn out too long. They could have fine tuned it, whittled it down by 15 minutes and it probably would have moved at a brisker, more energetic pace. There are a lot of action sequences and there are a few moments where you feel like you’ve reached the big finale, only for the film to stretch on more. But don’t get me wrong, all the action bits are damn solid.

The opening sequence of this film is powerful, beautiful and breathtaking. It is the best shot and best paced sequence in the entire movie but it really draws you in and makes you want to go on this long journey with the hero. James Earl Jones, no matter how many times I have seen this scene, is still absolutely chilling.

Conan the Barbarian is a film that couldn’t be made in quite the same way that it was in 1982 with Hollywood politics being what they are.

Although, I could be wrong about that, as the new Conan the Barbarian comic by Marvel surprised me in how badass and brutal its recent first issue was. But maybe that’s only because it speaks to a particular audience that Marvel knows they’d lose if they messed with the formula.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Conan the Destroyer, the Conan the Barbarian remake, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.

Film Review: Jingle All the Way (1996)

Also known as: Could This Be Christmas? (script title)
Release Date: November 16th, 1996 (Mall of America premiere)
Directed by: Brian Levant
Written by: Randy Kornfield
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, Jake Lloyd, Curtis Armstrong, Robert Conrad, Martin Mull, Jim Belushi, Richard Moll, Mickey Rooney, Paul Wight, Mo Collins

1492 Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 89 Minutes, 94 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“We get one day a year to prove we’re not screw-ups, and what do we do? We screw it up.” – Myron Larabee

I never saw this movie in its entirety until Christmas Day, 2018.

When it came out in 1996, I thought it looked terrible. I was also a senior in high school and going out with girls was more important than watching bad movies with Arnie, Sinbad and young Anakin Skywalker crying over a lame toy.

Since I have exhausted so many Christmas classics, I figured that I’d give this a chance. Besides, I actually love Arnie, Sinbad and the great Phil Hartman. Plus, this also has small roles for Curtis Armstrong (Booger from Revenge of the Nerds), Martin Mull, Jim Belushi, Richard Moll (Bull from Night Court), Mickey Rooney, Robert Conrad, Mo Collins and “The Big Show” Paul Wight.

So if I’m being honest, which I always am, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this stupid movie. It’s a lot of fun, there isn’t a dull moment and the chemistry between Schwarzenegger and Sinbad is really good. I actually just wish that they would’ve shared more scenes together.

The rest of the cast also did well and the rivalry between Arnold and Phil Hartman was entertaining. Man, Hartman was great as a neighbor creeper moving in on Arnold’s wife but in all seriously, was he insane? Arnie’s the f’n Terminator!

The only big problem with the movie is that it all falls apart in the finale. I was on board and digging everything up until the parade where Arnold and Sinbad are dressed up like a superhero and a supervillain and Arnold actually has a functioning jetpack. I know that this is a dumb, mindless movie but watching Arnold fly around downtown without proper jetpack training, moving in a way that isn’t possible by physics, made it so that I couldn’t suspend disbelief any longer. It was total cringe and destroyed the fun movie that this was before that shoddy action sequence kicked off.

Ignoring that atrocious ending, I probably would have given this about a 7.25. Seriously, I enjoyed it that much for 90 percent of the movie.

Still, I’d watch this again but probably not for several years once I’ve run through a few dozen other holiday films.

Plus, the cast keeps things pretty engaging for the most part and the reindeer fight was the stuff of legend.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Schwarzenegger comedies: Kindergarten CopTwins and I guess Junior but no one should suffer through that one.

Film Review: Killing Gunther (2017)

Also known as: Why We’re Killing Gunther (working title)
Release Date: September 22nd, 2017 (Internet)
Directed by: Taran Killam
Written by: Taran Killam
Music by: Dino Meneghin
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Taran Killam, Bobby Moynihan, Hannah Simone, Cobie Smulders

MadRiver Pictures, StarStream Media, Saban Films, 93 Minutes

Review:

“[after Gunther escapes on a chopper] He got to the chopper.” – Blake

This could have been a really awesome action comedy, as the premise was great and it had Schwarzenegger in it. Sadly, it was duller than a half melted plastic knife trying to cut through a Huddle House steak.

The story follows a group of assassins that band together in an effort to kill super assassin Gunther (Schwarzenegger). The group of assassins are all bumbling asshats that continually screw up and it’s supposed to be funny, I guess. It isn’t and none of the jokes are very effective or even that original. The girl assassin is fairly badass but she’s just bogged down by the male idiots around her because in 2018, women are tough heroes and men are morons… yawn.

Anyway, Schwarzenegger is by far, the only good thing about this movie and he’s why I don’t rate this a 4 out of 10. However, he doesn’t even show up until the last fifteen minutes. It’s a lot of fun once he’s there but chances are, most people will fall asleep or give up on this unfunny dud before they even get that deep into the movie.

I will say that the set up of this film was pretty ok. It did a decent job of showcasing the characters and what they’re about. But once you get into the team’s formation, it just drags and drags until you get to see Schwarzenegger at the end.

It also has a lot of technical issues.

Mainly, the special effects are worse than something my adolescent niece can do with Adobe After Effects. The CGI blood splatter is laughably bad, as are a lot of the explosions and gun fire. What is really hilarious, is how these people run around pretending to shoot guns, as the gun fire effect is added in post-production, but they don’t even act out the fact that firearms have actual recoil. I’ve seen more realistic firefights in a PlayStation 2 game. We’re up to PlayStation 4, for those of you who aren’t video game savvy.

Unless you are a serious, hardcore fan of Arnie, this is a total waste of time. Or just fast-forward to the point where they raid his home at the end.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: I guess other Schwarzenegger comedies but this won’t be better than or equal to any of them.

Film Review: Predator (1987)

Also known as: Alien Hunter, Hunter, Primeval (working titles)
Release Date: June 12th, 1987
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Shane Black (uncredited)
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weather, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Richard Chaves, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Shane Black, Kevin Peter Hall

Lawrence Gordon Productions, Silver Pictures, Davis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes

Review:

“Run! Get to the chopper!” – Dutch

Outside of the first two Terminator movies, this is the best thing that Schwarzenegger has ever done. In all honesty, I hold it in the same regards as the first two Terminator films because it is that damn good and it still works really well today.

Predator is one of those films that you assume every red blooded American male has watched, memorized and has the same appreciation for it as the other real red blooded American males. When you meet a guy that hasn’t seen it, you have to suspect if they are a communist or if they grew up “winning” a bunch of participation trophies for a pottery competition. Any red blooded American male that has seen this 107 minute masterpiece of majestic masculinity knows that Schwarzenegger is the second coming of the Jesus and that his mercenary crew are his apostles while Carl Weathers is his Judas.

This is a damn near perfect movie if all you’re looking for is chiseled beast men with massive guns (literally and figuratively), stomping through a jungle, spitting tobacco, making pussy jokes and murdering the everliving crap out of whatever they’re paid to murder the everliving crap out of. Throw in a giant beast alien with high tech gadgetry, stealth camouflage and a penchant for skinning its victims and you’ve got the cinema’s equivalent to the Holy Bible for dudes. Although, I also know several ladies who have been captivated by the Holy Word of John McTiernan with this and his other Holy work called Die Hard.

Apart from the reasons I’ve already talked about, this film also benefits from the incredible theme and score by Alan Silvestri. It is still one of the best scores he has ever done and it is simply badass.

The film also makes incredible use of its environment. You feel the heat and the discomfort, as these beefy men traverse through a thick jungle in Central America. The jungle is really the main character of this film and it overshadows the cast, despite the incredible lineup of talent that is in this: Schwarzenegger, Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, the Predator itself, etc. The film was actually filmed in Hawaii, for the record.

The one thing that could’ve really been the “make or break” moment of the film ended up being one of the most memorable scenes of the entire 1980s. That was the reveal of the monster. The Predator creature design was handled by the maestro, Stan Winston. The look of the creature is friggin’ incredible and it is still one of the coolest and most badass movie monsters going today.

The problem with this film and its monster being so damn great and iconic, is that no sequel will ever live up to this film. And so far, no sequel has. People seem to have a sort of disdain for Predator 2 but fuck those people. It’s also damned good, not a classic as this one is, but it is true to the spirit of the original. Also, Predators was a good experience as well. I think it is the weakest of the three Predator films but it is still a lot of fun and has some big iron balls like the other two films. Then there are those Alien Vs. Predator movies. While the concept works great in comic books and video games, it wasn’t very good on the big screen, sadly.

On a side note, Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally in this, as another alien creature, but the whole thing got cut from the film. Just saying, if Van Damme made it into this picture too, even if he was obscured by his costume, the testosterone levels in this movie would have run over and flooded whatever village this was filmed near.

Predator is one of my all-time favorite films. It will always be one of my all-time favorites. If you don’t feel the same way, you’re probably a hippie communist that writes poetry for your plants.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Predator 2 and Predators. Ignoring those AvP movies is probably best for everyone.

Film Review: The Running Man (1987)

Also known as: Battle Runner (Japanese English title)
Release Date: November 13th, 1987
Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Written by: Steven E. de Souza
Based on: The Running Man by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Dawson, María Conchita Alonso, Jesse Ventura, Mick Fleetwood, Dweezil Zappa, Yaphet Kotto, Marvin J. McIntyre, Jim Brown, Kurt Fuller, Lin Shaye

Braveworld Productions, Taft Entertainment, HBO Pictures, TriStar Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Killian, here’s your Subzero! Now… plain zero!” – Ben Richards

This is a Stephen King story, even if the author wrote this under a pseudonym. It was brought to life by the screenplay of Steven E. de Souza, who also penned the scripts for Die Hard 12Commando48 Hrs. 12 and a bunch of other cool shit.

Add in a cast that boasts manly badasses Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, Jim Brown and Yaphet Kotto and there are almost too many iron balls on the screen. This is a festival of testosterone and broken bodies.

You also have Richard Dawson, who was the perfect choice for the role of Killian, and María Conchita Alonso, who I’ve been crushing on since about fourth grade.

This story takes place in a dystopian corporate future where an innocent soldier is framed for a massacre that he actually tried to prevent. He escapes prison and goes on the run, using a very apprehensive TV executive to help him get to freedom. She freaks out in the airport though and the soldier is caught and forced to compete in a strange game show. The soldier and his allies have to fight their way through derelict city blocks, fighting off gimmicky warriors that the live studio audience chooses to apprehend and murder them in cold blood for their entertainment. As the soldier starts offing these warriors, public opinion changes and the people start cheering for this “criminal” against the corporate system that is trying to snuff him out.

The film’s themes are very similar to two films from 1975: Death Race 2000 and Rollerball. This certainly doesn’t make this story a rehash of those, however. This is unique and just a cool twist on the manhunt genre.

I always loved Schwarzenegger in sci-fi settings, especially ones dealing with a dark future. While this isn’t anywhere near as good as the first two Terminator movies, it is a lot of fun and still holds some social and political relevance today, over thirty years later.

The effects are good for the time, the characters are twisted but cool and this almost feels like a mashup of American Gladiators, old school WWF and Blade Runner.

I still love this movie and even if it hasn’t aged too well, it is a product of the awesome ’80s and still works within the context of its creation.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other ’80s Schwarzenegger films. For style and themes, it works with the original Rollerball and Death Race 2000.

Documentary Review: Andre the Giant (2018)

Release Date: April 10th, 2018
Directed by: Jason Hehir
Music by: Rudy Chung, Justin T. Feldman
Cast: Andre the Giant (archive footage), Hulk Hogan, Vince McMahon, Rob Reiner, Billy Crystal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Ric Flair, Jerry Lawler, Shane McMahon, Gene Okerlund, Pat Patterson, Tim White

Bill Simmons Media Group, HBO, WWE, 85 Minutes

Review:

I was anticipating this since I first heard about it’s production a while ago. Then, once I saw the trailer, I was really stoked.

I have seen a lot of documentaries about professional wrestling but they have mostly been the ones put out by WWE. Sure, those have great production values and even greater stories but I’m always skeptical about WWE releases due to their history of showing a lot of bias. Go back and look at their hit piece called The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior if you don’t believe me. In fact, WWE has sort of ignored that that film even exists after mending their relationship with the Ultimate Warrior and his family.

HBO put together and released this documentary on the legendary Andre Roussimoff a.k.a. Andre the Giant. So that alone puts it in higher regard than WWE’s own productions.

While it does follow his wrestling career, it was nice seeing some of the focus being put on his short acting career, as this documentary interviews those who worked on The Princess Bride with him: Rob Reiner, Billy Crystal, Cary Elwes and Robin Wright. It also showcases his childhood and his family but not as much as I would’ve liked.

Strangely, the film also features Hulk Hogan a lot. I get that they needed to foreshadow the importance of their epic WrestleMania III main event match but it seemed as if the Hogan material was distracting from Andre’s story. Granted, Andre was still the primary focus. Also, Hogan is a well known bullshitter that likes to present revisionist history. I had to kind of take what he was saying about his and Andre’s relationship with a grain of salt.

Negatives aside, this was still well done and it painted a picture of a man that was really a gentle giant. Sure, he would use his size to his advantage but ultimately, Andre was sort of a sweetheart that sadly suffered from a lot of physical, as well as emotional, pain.

But more than anything else, he was a man that was beloved by many.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The recent Ric Flair 30 For 30 documentary by ESPN.

 

Film Review: Terminator Genisys (2015)

Also known as: Terminator 5 (informal title)
Release Date: June 21st, 2015 (Berlin premiere)
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier
Based on: characters by James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, Courtney B. Vance, Lee Byung-hun

Skydance Productions, Paramount Pictures, 126 Minutes

Review:

“God damn time traveling robots! Covering up their god damn tracks! I knew it.” – Detective O’Brien

*Written in 2015.

What a shitty movie. But it was, at certain moments, a fun movie.

To start, Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are classics and close to perfect blockbuster films. They are a measuring stick. However, just like every other film in the Terminator franchise after T2, this one doesn’t measure up.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was horrendous, Terminator Salvation was dog shit and this one fits right alongside those two films. I would say that Terminator Genisys is the better of the bad films in the series and it at least attempts to be more inventive and original than the other bad sequels.

The saving grace of this film is Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is great as always in this role, he seems comfortable as this character and his wit and humor are perfect. Granted, the one liners and quips aren’t as great as they were in T2 but maybe that is because T2 is the first time anyone experienced a humorous T-800 and it has been a staple in pop culture now for 24 years. I loved every time that the T-800 was on screen in this film but he was underutilized and overshadowed by the other iconic characters, who were generally portrayed poorly.

Another positive is Jai Courtney, who I enjoyed in something for the first time. Playing Kyle Reese isn’t an easy task and he did fall short of living up to the iconic status Michael Biehn gave to that role. That’s not Courtney’s fault, however, and no one else that has taken on that role has succeeded. I didn’t hate him in this, so I guess that’s a plus.

Jason Clarke was okay as John Connor but I don’t even know who John Connor is anymore and I have watched all the films and portions of the television show featuring the character. The problem is that John Connor isn’t a character people can relate to, as every time you see him, he is played by a different actor – seven, in fact, and that isn’t even counting video games or infant actors. And every actor plays him completely different. Clarke plays it safe and gives us a generic sort of future hero turned suped-up robo-villain. Yes, John Connor is the villain. That plot point was ruined in the trailer and would have been a much bigger and better reveal had the studio not spoiled their own film with desperate marketing.

Emilia Clarke, who I don’t think is related to the aforementioned Jason Clarke, plays Sarah Connor. Clarke, who is most famous for sad eyes, great boobs and playing with dragons, walked into a role that set her up to fail. I wouldn’t say that she is a great actress by any means, at least she hasn’t wowed me yet, and her portrayal of Sarah Connor didn’t help her case. I can’t blame her though, as she had immense shoes to fill with what Linda Hamilton did with the role. Clarke just couldn’t pull off that badass bitch shtick anywhere near as close as Hamilton did.

Now J.K. Simmons, let’s talk about him. The guy is great in everything he does, whether as J. Jonah Jameson in the original Spider-Man films or as the guy in the Farmers Insurance commercials. He was awesome in this film but like Schwarzenegger, was a bright spot that was underutilized.

I was glad to see Matt Smith find work in a big film now that his Doctor Who run has ended. He was barely in the film but he was in a pretty pivotal role, even if that role evolved into being the face and shape of Skynet’s evil yet lame A.I. – now renamed Genisys, which was just some Trojan horse in the guise of a smartphone app everyone in the film was obsessing over.

And that brings me to the plot. While the film took a different route, it was pretty weak. There were multiple timelines, shifting timelines, lots of time traveling and the T-800 giving clunky explanations of the science in the film. It is just one of those movies where you need to embrace suspension of disbelief and just not think too hard about it. Just roll with it or you’ll go mad. Although, I wouldn’t mind seeing Schwarzenegger giving physics talks or having a science show where he explains complex concepts poorly.

Also in the realm of bad science was the physics of the film. Just watch the big helicopter battle, which is the major action sequence before the big climax. Actually, just watch the whole film, there are several times you’ll see things happen that are physically impossible. And why did they have to flip the school bus? And it would never flip like that. Ever since the infamous semi-flipping scene in 2008’s The Dark Knight, blockbusters have been trying to recreate that magic moment.

The special effects in this film are a combination of spectacular and atrocious. The scene with the MRI machine ripping apart John Connor was beautiful and just looked amazing. Then there was the helicopter chase scene that looked like a bad cartoon, completely ignoring physics, plausibility and came off as rushed and unrefined.

I thought the score was pretty good but the iconic Terminator theme never blasted through the theater speakers in its full glory. Well, not until the credits rolled. Talk about a wasted opportunity.

The problem with this film and all the films and television shows in this franchise after Terminator 2: Judgment Day, is that there isn’t a real continuity from film to film. The plots completely shift things around, the actors are never the same and you just don’t care about these characters or events because everything that happens in these movies is easily wiped away and rewritten with each new installment. It makes all the previous work sort of moot. It also disrespects what the previous filmmakers have done before it.

At face value, this is mediocre film with some good effects that is a fun ride. But it is a “one and done” fun ride. I’ll never have the urge to watch this again, as I have never watched any film in this franchise more than once since T2. For the record, I watch T2 almost annually, if not more so.

I had higher hopes for Terminator Genisys, especially since James Cameron, the director of the first two films and the creator of the franchise, gave this one the thumbs up. But maybe, like John Connor, he’s no longer the hero.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Terminator movies but is better paired to the films after Terminator 2 a.k.a. the shitty ones.